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Food security should be top budget priority

 food security
Kenya’s food security seems to be worsening by the day. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

Is achieving food security for all Kenyans a mirage? Is it really a priority for policymakers, beyond its inclusion in the much hyped Big Four Agenda?

Many wonder if food security is even a realistic national goal at all –given recent political pronouncements on the stump. That food security is a “non-issue” or at the very least is “not” a national emergency.

Some politicians stated that Kenya has “adequate food” in its breadbasket–and the only challenge is moving it around! The Cabinet Secretary for National Treasury and Planning has issued the National Budget Statement for the 2019/2020 financial year, setting out the government’s taxation, spending and funding proposals and policy priorities. Amid the pomp in this annual ritual, lies danger of over-expecting, given weak capacity in aligning annual budgets to national priorities outlined in policy blueprints.

The real question for many Kenyans is how the budget impacts their lives and whether they will have enough food to eat. These in turn depend heavily on agricultural production and the food security situation-which is in dire straits. This nation seems to forget too easily that just a few months ago, media was awash with disturbing images of Kenyans dying of hunger, with an estimated one million facing starvation.

A significant proportion of the population suffers from chronic to acute food shortages at individual and household levels due to a deadly cocktail of food poverty and income poverty. Kenya National Bureau of Statistics estimates that one in every three citizens does not get the minimum daily dietary and caloric requirements.

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Kenya’s food security seems to be worsening by the day. In April, the National Drought Management Authority classified the food security situation in 10 counties as “critical”. This could turn into a full-blown national emergency. The prices of Kenya’s staple foods are rising sharply, limiting affordability. Delays in the onset of long rains and forecasts of below-average rainfall will reduce food situation as well as lower food output and yields.

Why do these issues matter? The nation’s precarious food security deserves to be the national government’s top budget priority.

Budget allocations to agriculture and food security in the next financial year are a paltry 3.2 percent of National Government revenues. This is grossly inadequate for a priority sector that is also a pillar in the Big 4 Agenda.

Spending on food security is trending downwards, and has fallen from 3.5 percent of revenues in 2016/2017. Growth in total voted expenditure is also outpacing growth in spending on agriculture and food.

For food security to be a “priority” for government, expenditure on agriculture and food needs to be a significant item in the National Budget and close to the 10 percent Malabo commitment that Kenya signed up for.

We also need to stem the declining share of budget spending on agriculture and food. That poses great risks to the economic wellbeing and stability of the nation and could harm an important sector that contributes 34.6 percent to GDP, directly employs 56 percent of the labour force, and generates 65 per cent of our merchandise goods exports.

The writer is consultant and financial sector specialist.

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